In an exclusive interview with Channel 4 on Monday, Sheriff John Rutherford said that communication by the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office to the media was just one of the problems Friday night's abduction of 8-year-old Cherish Perrywinkle, who was found dead less than 12 hours later.
It took JSO 5½ hours before telling the media a child had been abducted. [Click here to view a timeline].
"Hopefully I can find out where the ball was dropped on not calling you guys more quickly," Rutherford told Channel 4. "I'm not as concerned about the Amber Alert time as I am the media time, because the media time was at the initial point of the investigation. That could have been helpful... Who knows?"
Rutherford said at the time homicide investigators were initially called to the Walmart regarding a child abduction, they did suspect foul play. Whenever homicide investigators are called to a scene, JSO notifies the media via email in what is called an EARS broadcast.
"When they put out that first EARS broadcast, we already suspected foul play. Why that signal 30, the abduction information, was not included in that EARS broadcast, that's what I'm looking into," Rutherford said. "But then, as they continued the investigation, the initial response was excellent. The officers did everything they could have and should have done, other than they didn't call a (public information officer) to the scene and they didn't make proper staff notifications, it doesn't appear. We're still looking into all this. But they also left out that portion in the EARS broadcast at 12:15 (a.m.) that there was an abduction involved in this case."
It wasn't until 4:40 a.m. "that they finally put out that, 'Hey, look, we need you to come to the scene. This is actually an abduction that we're working and we need your assistance,'" Rutherford said. "I think that should have happened back at 12:15 (a.m.), but I'm investigating that to find out what everybody knew, when they knew it, and how was it that that first EARS broadcast went out without the abduction information in it. It went out and it went out that homicide was responding, but the officers at the scene have the responsibility."
"We needed the media that night. We should have made sure that you were there quicker, and that's our responsibility, not yours. I don't care how many EARS broadcasts we put out. That should have been a phone call to say, 'Hey, nobody showed up. We need you out here. We got to get this information out to the public.'"
Rutherford said he didn't find out a child had been abducted until about 6 or 7 a.m. He said he's reviewing procedures to see what changes need to be made.